JERRY GOROSKI is the consultant appraisar to whom I refer inquiries about Scriver bronzes. He is formally trained and certified to do assessments and knew Bob Scriver as well as working for the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls. His gallery is called "Open Range Art."


Thursday, May 07, 2015


THURSDAY, MAY 07, 2015


A few weeks ago I received a letter that surprised and pleased me very much!  It was from Alexander F. Contini who had found my story about meeting Cesare Contini at the Cowboy Hall of Fame when Bob Scriver’s lifesized bronze of Bill Lindermanwas dedicated.   It’s in “Bronze Inside and Out,” my biography of Bob. Everyone was dressed up, me wearing a persimmon-colored velveteen jacket I made because the Hall is on Persimmon Hill.  

Someone mentioned that Fraser’s “End of the Trail”, the plaster original, was being worked on by Cesare Contini in a sequestered space out back.  We lost Bob.  He finally turned up out there with Contini who was at the top of a tall ladder in his work clothes doing something.  Bob, in his best duds, was just a few rungs down, peppering Contini with questions about plaster, molds, and armatures.

Dean Krakel, the inspired force behind the Hall, had to more-or-less take Bob by the scruff of the neck and make him go back out there to charm the money people.  Contini laughed.  Krakel devotes a whole chapter of his book, “Adventures in Western Art”, to the discovery and barely-in-time to rescue the monumental plaster model which was in a trash heap, slowly sinking into the mud.  It had already been exhibited as a plaster.  Plans to cast in bronze had been aborted by war.
Fraser, the sculptor, and the maquette for the statue

Leonard MacMurry did the first assessment.  “First was the point system used by Fraser in determining the thickness of layers of plaster.  Next, he found the alcohol wick burners that had been sealed inside to dry and cure the statue.  By comparing photograph measurements, it was determined that the entire figure had settled fourteen inches since it was placed on the base in San Francisco.

“In months to come, McMurry removed six distinct layers of paint in a variety of textures and colors.  The critical problem was the pulling together and sealing of fissures throughout the body.”

Bernard Zuckerman was the chosen bronze caster and he pulled in Contini to be the mold maker.  Krakel says, “Mr. Contini was the right person for the task.  He had known and worked with the father on Fraser projects since the 1920’s.  Cesare, an amiable and gifted man, is America’s foremost mold maker.”  That’s not all. Nerve falters in such long and expensive processes.  “To provide assurance, early in 1970 Joel McCrea, Cesare Contini, and I went to Visalia (where the plaster original had been located) to meet with the Board of Supervisors at a public meeting.”  They had been promised a replacement for the giant plaster -- which they hadn’t realized was a national treasure until Krakel and his posse came riding in, and had no concept of how long it takes to cast a bronze.

Fraser with his clay maquette and the monumental plaster.

“By mid-fall the molds had been removed, crated and made ready for shipment to Italy. . . After shipment of the molds, Cesare Contini’s long and important role with the End of the Trail ended.”

I have a close friend whose front room walls are entirely covered with depictions of “The End of the Trail” that he has collected from second hand stores and Salvation Army shops all around the country, some of them cheesy and some of them sublime.  I’ve known this gent for half-a-century.  He’s not a cowboy or even a Westerner, but this iconic sculpture means something to him.  

Around here I have to watch my tongue, because the Native Americans did not react positively.  The whole implication is that Indians are THROUGH.  They’ve hit the beach going the wrong way and will now be extinguished by the tide.  Except they weren’t.

Jeffrey Gibson (an Indian artist): I remember visiting the Cherokee gift shop as a kid, where there were small novelty versions of the sculpture for sale. At the time, I saw it as an image of a shamed, defeated Indian. It always made me feel badly about myself, and I wondered if this was this really how the rest of the world viewed us, as failures. It seemed to be an image about defeat and despair.

Shannon Vittoria: When did your perception of this work begin to change?

Jeffrey Gibson: Over the years, I went to powwows with my family, where I saw “End of the Trail” screen-printed on flags that were used in ceremonies honoring veterans and prisoners of war. There was a comparison being made between the veteran and the warrior, and this brought up conflicting feelings and emotions in me. As I was growing up, I would talk to people about the image, yet no one seemed to know where it originated. It was a symbol that had lost its point of origin, but one that had been completely reinvented in a Native context. This left a strong impression on me, and I found it amazing that this image could embody new meaning under different circumstances.

Shannon Vittoria: How has this altered your interpretation of the work?

Jeffrey Gibson: Looking at the work now, I can accept why it has become such a popular, iconic sculpture. I have come to see it as a symbol of resilience and strength—characteristics traditionally associated with the warrior. I no longer see this as the end or as defeat. Instead, I see a warrior who is taking a break before getting back up again. There is a degree of lament, but there is also a strong sense of honor and determination.

The Contini family and their immigration to America is part of the story of the nation.  The American Revolution was happening just a little earlier than the Beaux Arts bronze casting art foundries, not least because bronze was now available in the form of used cannons.  The Continis had been marble cutters which is different, but they made the shift to foundries, which meant molds.  They require expert knowledge of things like engineering and the properties of chemical compounds.  

Thomas Jefferson wanted sculptured portraits of the Fathers of the Country.  It would have been ideal to use American sculptors and foundries, but the country was too young to have people who really knew what they were doing.  He had to settle for Houdon's marble busts. One by one, sons and brothers came to the United States and established their support for the monumental work that was being done by people like Fraser, defining what the country was ideally about.  

In 1971 the finished “End of the Trail” was dedicated.  Krakel said that as he sat among the 4,000 people who came to the celebration, he was thinking of Cesare Contini.  Bob and I weren’t there, but many times over the years we thought of Cesare Contini and smiled.  And I smiled a lot after I received the letter from Alexander.

The stories of Western Artists just now leaving the stage.

The book is for sale on Amazon for $2 plus shipping.

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